General Ray Odierno — commander of U.S.-led forces in Iraq — told the Washington Post that Iran “is working publicly and covertly to undermine the status-of-forces agreement as officials from Iraq and the United States report nearing a deal that must be ratified by Iraq’s parliament.”
“Clearly, this is one they’re having a full court press on to try to ensure there’s never any bilateral agreement between the United States and Iraq,” Odierno said. “We know that there are many relationships with people here for many years going back to when Saddam was in charge, and I think they’re utilizing those contacts to attempt to influence the outcome of the potential vote in the council of representatives.”
Odierno said he had no definitive proof of the bribes, but added that “there are many intelligence reports” that suggest Iranians are “coming in to pay off people to vote against it.” The reports have not been made public.
No one should find it surprising that Iran would seek to influence an agreement that could potentially involve a significant U.S. force presence on its border for years to come. As to the question of “payoffs,” it’s probably unwise to comment until we have some evidence, and know what form these “payoffs” take. As Gen. Odierno indicates, however, Iran enjoys ties at all levels of leading Iraqi Shia parties, something which derives both from similar traditions of scholarly activism and, perhaps more immediately, from the fact these parties were headquartered in Tehran during the reign of Saddam Hussein.
In May, Center for American Progress analyst Brian Katulis wrote that Iran’s “important role in Iraq economically and politically is generally acknowledged, though it rarely gets the attention it deserves.” Katulis argued that “the United States, by staying in Iraq unconditionally, is facilitating the expansion of the Iranian government’s influence.”
The efforts to shape Iranian behavior through a coalition of the willing on economic sanctions are not likely to have an impact as long as it is U.S. policy to boost some of Iran’s best allies in the Middle East: the Iraqi government.
Reviewing the Pentagon’s recent “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq” report, analyst Reidar Visser criticized “the Pentagon’s take on Iranian influences in Iraq”:
The Department of Defense simply refuses to deal open-mindedly with the possibility of pro-Iranian influences inside the current Iraqi government. Instead the report brusquely asserts, “despite long-standing ties between Iraq and some members of the GoI, Tehran’s influence campaign is beginning to strain that relationship due to the rising perception that Iran poses a significant threat to Iraqi sovereignty.” Maybe it is the overuse of acronyms that prevents Pentagon analysts from detecting the problem here? Surely, when ISOF are conducting COIN with IP support to defeat the JAM and SGs and other undesirables, it all sounds so well organised that it almost comes across as unthinkable that Iranian interests could conceivably be served by these actions.
Indeed, it is unthinkable that removing Iran’s greatest enemy and facilitating the installation of a government dominated by Shia religious parties with close ties to Iran in its place could have possibly increased Iranian influenced in Iraq.
The Post story ends by reporting that Gen. Odierno “said al-Qaeda in Iraq, which does not enjoy Iranian backing, has been particularly resilient in Mosul.” I should point out that a number of John McCain’s advisers and spokespersons (including Mike Goldfarb, back when he was, as Jason Zengerle noted, merely a de facto McCain spokesman, rather than an official one) have disagreed with Odierno and Petraeus on this point, and continue to insist that Iran backs Al Qaeda in Iraq.